Food companies under pressure to reduce sweetener use
By Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report
|LA QUINTA, Calif. — Both consumers and the government are putting pressure on food companies to reduce the amount of sweeteners in their products, a panel of experts said here today at the International Sweetener Colloquium, which is sponsored by the Sweetener Users Association and the International Dairy Foods Association.|
Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of The Sugar Association, noted that, after rising from the 1980s through 2008, sugar consumption has gone down, mostly because the sales of soda containing high-fructose corn syrup have plummeted.
Obesity and diabetes rates have continued to rise, an indication that these conditions are the result of overall increased caloric consumption, but the pressure to reduce sugar consumption continues, Gaine added.
Nutritional advice trends go through cycles, and presently “sugar is really bad and fat is OK,” Gaine said.
Kris Sollid, senior director for nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council, said that its survey of consumers shows that about three-quarters of consumers are trying to limit or avoid added sugars to avoid weight gain or lose it.
Baby boomers “are leading the pack in trying to reduce added sugars,” he said.
|Beth Johnson of Food Directions, a consulting firm, noted that the government has been engaged in a lot of activity to try to influence diets in the last 10 years, beginning with the Nutrition Facts Label at the Food and Drug Administration, which now includes an “added sugars” category, and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation that Americans limit their consumption of added sugars to 10% of their calories.|
When something is listed on the Nutrition Facts Label, manufacturers usually reduce the ingredient unless it is something the government is trying to encourage people to consume more, such as fiber, in which case they may try to increase it, Johnson said.
Because consumers don’t understand labels, and obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise, there is a move away from the voluntary approach to the government suggesting or mandating foods and ingredients, Johnson said.
The FDA’s new definition of healthy is also likely to affect the use of sugar because “it has a very, very low threshold – 2.5 grams of sugar,” she said.
FDA is also looking at using an icon on food products “to incentivize folks,” and less than 5% of packaged foods would be eligible for the icon, she added.
Gaine said the FDA needs to be careful when it makes its decision. She noted that after FDA declared saturated fats unhealthy, companies turned to trans fats, which turned out to be worse and were banned.
Johnson said that if government-suggested or -mandated changes to eating patterns result in people not getting enough nutrients, there could be negative health consequences in the future.
Gaine noted that USDA is planning to limit added sugars in cereals in school meals and pointed out that those cereals are fortified.
Sollid said that consumers believe a statement that a food is low in sugar is a sign it is healthy.
Gaine noted that government nutritionists do not talk about calories much anymore, and Johnson said the nutritionists believe that if consumers eat foods are the low in sugar and low in fat a reduction in calories and obesity will follow.
Andy Dratt, chief commercial officer for Imbibe, a company that consults with food companies on research and development, said there are two ways for a company to reduce sugar: reformulation of existing products or bring a new product to market.
The taste of sweetness is not the only quality that sugar brings to a food, Dratt said. Sugar also interacts with other flavors and adds bulk to foods. As companies consider reducing sugar as an ingredient, they have to think about what repercussions besides sweetness the change will have on the food, he said.